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Utah law firm apologizes after marketing gift upsets grieving family

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The family of a Murray man killed in a motorcycle crash is upset over items they say were left on their porch a day after his death, from a local personal injury law firm.

The law firm explained they were trying to help, but the family said they felt preyed upon.

At 21 years old, Nathan Lance had so much to look forward to in life. His sister, Jessica Lance Copeland, said Nathan planned to become a pilot. He loved flying planes, fixing cars, and riding his motorcycle.

On November 10, Copeland said her brother was on his way to get his motorcycle license as he prepared to continue school in Texas to become a commercial pilot, when a driver who didn't see Lance on his motorcycle turned in front of him in Murray.

Copeland said Nathan died at the scene. She immediately flew out from Florida, as the family dealt with the crushing blow.

"We had just barely, barely, barely started to think about getting a plot for him, and just barely starting the funeral planning, and we got this box of cookies," she recounted.

On her parents' doorstep on November 11, Copeland described how someone had dropped off a gift that included cookies, a DoorDash gift card, and a note revealing who it came from.

"'During this time of heartbreak and loss, we at Steele Adams Hosman would like to share our heartfelt condolences with you,'" Copeland said, reading the handwritten note aloud. "'As you work through the pain and sorrow, know that we are available to answer any legal questions you may have.'"

She said reading the note was sickening.

"I think the extent to which they went to, to make sure they could try and solicit to us and if we had any questions, or anything like that, it was just disgusting," she said.

Especially, Copeland expressed, when it came to the timing of the delivery.

"It hadn't even been 24 hours after my brother's accident," she said. "It was just really kind of like the knife in the wound, to kind of feel like this company or someone is trying to profit off the death of a loved one so soon."

While the family was horrified by the unsolicited gift, the lawfirm that sent it explained that was not their intention at all.

"We thought that we would really love to be able to put those resources in the hands the people that we're serving," he said.

Hosman described how they've only sent out a handful of gifts like the one they sent to the Lance family, and that they received positive feedback from others.

"We wanted to be able to help," he said. "Even if we can't represent them. Even if we can't help them with their case, we would love to do something nice for those people."

But the sudden reach-out so soon after Nathan's death, left the Lance family wondering if it was ethical.

"It's questionable," said Steven Johnson, a member of the Utah Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Rules of Professional Conduct.

Johnson relayed how a state ethics rule change just over a year ago opened up the advertising that lawyers can do. Under the old rules, Johnson said, that kind of advertising would have been inappropriate.

But under the new rules, lawyers are able to advertise more freely as long as the advertisement is not misleading or false, Johnson explained, and as long as the lawyer doesn't interact with a prospective client in a manner that involves coercion, duress or harassment.

"This procedure of finding a way to advertise without billboards, in my opinion, is fine," Johnson said. He added, "But doing it day after, is really bordering on harassment when the family is still grieving. If they had waited a week or two, that might be a different case."

Hosman believes they followed the ethics rules.

Knowing how the Lance family took the gift, Hosman said the firm feels awful. He said they are now looking at waiting longer before sending anything, and potentially sending the cookies and gift card anonymously.

"Our whole job is to help people through the healing process, to help them kind of get back to some sort of normalcy," Hosman said. "And we failed this time. And we're really sorry. We won't be doing that again."